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Israeli group sold hacking tools to spy on Windows

Hala Turk



Microsoft along with technology human rights group Citizen Lab said on Thursday that an Israeli private firm named Candiru sold hacking tools that controls Microsoft Windows.  

The hackers created and sold a software than can penetrate Windows. This new growing business aim to find flows in common software platforms for their clients, according to a report by Citizen Lab.  

The clients of these hacking tool makers can be various civil society organizations. Citizen Lab and Microsoft separate reports said that these clients might include a Saudi rebel group and a left-leaning Indonesian news outlet. 

The hacking tool was deployed against users in several countries, including Iran, Lebanon, Spain, and U.K., according to the Citizen Lab report. 

“Candiru’s growing presence, and the use of its surveillance technology against global civil society, is a potent reminder that the mercenary spyware industry contains many players and is prone to widespread abuse,” Citizen Lab said in its report. 

It is worth mentioning that Microsoft fixed the discovered flaws on Tuesday through a software update, according to a Microsoft blog post

However, the tech giant did not directly attribute the exploits to Candiru, instead referring to it as an “Israel-based private sector offensive actor” under the codename Sourgum. 

“Sourgum generally sells cyberweapons that enable its customers, often government agencies around the world, to hack into their targets’ computers, phones, network infrastructure, and internet-connected devices,” Microsoft wrote.  

In parallel, Google released on Wednesday a blog post where it disclosed two Chrome software flaws that Citizen Lab found connected to Candiru. Google also did not refer to Candiru by name but described it as a “commercial surveillance company.” 

Hala is a journalist and an editor with experience in the news industry. She enjoys writing motivational stories aiming to inspire people to overachieve.


eBay cyberstalking schemer sentenced to 18 months in prison

Hala Turk



Former eBay security manager Philip Cooke was sentenced on Tuesday to 18 months in prison for his role in an intense cyberstalking campaign against a pair of eBay critics.  

U.S. district judge Allison Burroughs issued the sentence nine months after Cooke was found guilty to conspiracy of cyberstalking and tampering with witnesses. 

According to federal prosecutors and a lawsuit filed last week by the victims, a group of eBay employees led by executives began in 2019 targeting the married couple Ina and David Steiner.  

The couple who oversees publishing an e-commerce blog received live spiders, a Halloween mask of a bloodied pig head, and a book titled “Surviving Loss of a Spouse” from former eBay employees.  

Burroughs addressed the employees’ actions as “really abominable” as she sentenced Cooke for 18 months in prison, followed by a year of home detention and a $15,000 fine. 

“It’s almost unfathomable to me, I’m not sure if I saw it on television, I would find it believable,” the judge added. 

Cooke – a retired police captain in Santa Clara, California – participated earlier in 2019, along with other eBay employees in conducting meetings against the couple. They discussed sending the publishers threatening messages, unwanted deliveries such as the bloodied pig head, and their plan of victims’ surveillance.

The cyberstalking conspirator is the first of seven former eBay workers who have been charged in this case and waiting to be sentenced. Four others have also pleaded guilty. 

Both victims spoke in court describing to the judge that they were afraid to leave their home in Natick, Massachusetts, and were concerned for their safety. 

“We were terrified,” Ina Steiner said. 

The husband further explained that the cyber-stalkers “weaponized their security department to make death threats against my wife, to try (to) burn our business down.”  

In parallel, throughout the court session, Cooke said he should have sought to prevent what became “horrific behavior to please the boss.” 

“It is crystal clear this was all wrong from start to finish,” he said. 

Cooke argued that the brain behind the plan was former eBay senior director of safety and security James Baugh. 

He further blamed his behavior on drinking problems within eBay’s culture, saying in a sentencing memorandum that “drinking was part of the culture, with alcohol present throughout the office space where it was typical to take morning shots of alcohol with coworkers.” 

Prior to Tuesday, before the judicial decision was made, prosecutors had asked the court for a prison sentence of two and a half years for Cooke, describing his actions as part of a “three-week nightmare” for the publishers. 

It’s worth mentioning that the U.S.- based e-commerce corporation was not charged as it already terminated all involved employees earlier in September 2019, and issued an apology last year to the affected individuals. 

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Turn off, turn on: Simple step can thwart top phone hackers

Associated Press



Turn off, turn on Simple step can thwart top phone hackers

As a member of the secretive Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Angus King has reason to worry about hackers. At a briefing by security staff this year, he said he got some advice on how to help keep his cellphone secure.

Step One: Turn off phone.

Step Two: Turn it back on.

That’s it. At a time of widespread digital insecurity it turns out that the oldest and simplest computer fix there is — turning a device off then back on again — can thwart hackers from stealing information from smartphones.

Regularly rebooting phones won’t stop the army of cybercriminals or spy-for-hire firms that have sowed chaos and doubt about the ability to keep any information safe and private in our digital lives. But it can make even the most sophisticated hackers work harder to maintain access and steal data from a phone.

“This is all about imposing cost on these malicious actors,” said Neal Ziring, technical director of the National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate.

The NSA issued a “best practices” guide for mobile device security last year in which it recommends rebooting a phone every week as a way to stop hacking.

King, an independent from Maine, says rebooting his phone is now part of his routine.

“I’d say probably once a week, whenever I think of it,” he said.

Almost always in arm’s reach, rarely turned off and holding huge stores of personal and sensitive data, cellphones have become top targets for hackers looking to steal text messages, contacts and photos, as well as track users’ locations and even secretly turn on their video and microphones.

“I always think of phones as like our digital soul,” said Patrick Wardle, a security expert and former NSA researcher.

The number of people whose phones are hacked each year is unknowable, but evidence suggests it’s significant. A recent investigation into phone hacking by a global media consortium has caused political uproars in France, India, Hungary and elsewhere after researchers found scores of journalists, human rights activists and politicians on a leaked list of what were believed to be potential targets of an Israeli hacker-for-hire company.

The advice to periodically reboot a phone reflects, in part, a change in how top hackers are gaining access to mobile devices and the rise of so-called “zero-click” exploits that work without any user interaction instead of trying to get users to open something that’s secretly infected.

“There’s been this evolution away from having a target click on a dodgy link,” said Bill Marczak, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, an internet civil rights watchdog at the University of Toronto.

Typically, once hackers gain access to a device or network, they look for ways to persist in the system by installing malicious software to a computer’s root file system. But that’s become more difficult as phone manufacturers such as Apple and Google have strong security to block malware from core operating systems, Ziring said.

“It’s very difficult for an attacker to burrow into that layer in order to gain persistence,” he said.

That encourages hackers to opt for “in-memory payloads” that are harder to detect and trace back to whoever sent them. Such hacks can’t survive a reboot, but often don’t need to since many people rarely turn their phones off.

“Adversaries came to the realization they don’t need to persist,” Wardle said. “If they could do a one-time pull and exfiltrate all your chat messages and your contact and your passwords, it’s almost game over anyways, right?”

A robust market currently exists for hacking tools that can break into phones. Some companies like Zerodium and Crowdfence publicly offer millions of dollars for zero-click exploits.

And hacker-for-hire companies that sell mobile-device hacking services to governments and law enforcement agencies have proliferated in recent years. The most well known is the Israeli-based NSO Group, whose spyware researchers say has been used around the world to break into the phones of human rights activists, journalists, and even members of the Catholic clergy.

NSO Group is the focus of the recent exposés by a media consortium that reported the company’s spyware tool Pegasus was used in 37 instances of successful or attempted phone hacks of business executives, human rights activists and others, according to The Washington Post.

The company is also being sued in the U.S. by Facebook for allegedly targeting some 1,400 users of its encrypted messaging service WhatsApp with a zero-click exploit.

NSO Group has said it only sells its spyware to “vetted government agencies” for use against terrorists and major criminals. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The persistence of NSO’s spyware used to be a selling point of the company. Several years ago its U.S.-based subsidy pitched law enforcement agencies a phone hacking tool that would survive even a factory reset of a phone, according to documents obtained by Vice News.

But Marczak, who has tracked NSO Group’s activists closely for years, said it looks like the company first starting using zero-click exploits that forgo persistence around 2019.

He said victims in the WhatsApp case would see an incoming call for a few rings before the spyware was installed. In 2020, Marczak and Citizen Lab exposed another zero-click hack attributed to NSO Group that targeted several journalists at Al Jazeera. In that case, the hackers used Apple’s iMessage texting service.

“There was nothing that any of the targets reported seeing on their screen. So that one was both completely invisible as well as not requiring any user interaction,” Marczak said.

With such a powerful tool at their disposal, Marczak said rebooting your phone won’t do much to stop determined hackers. Once you reboot, they could simply send another zero-click.

“It’s sort of just a different model, it’s persistence through reinfection,” he said.

The NSA’s guide also acknowledges that rebooting a phone works only sometimes. The agency’s guide for mobile devices has an even simpler piece of advice to really make sure hackers aren’t secretly turning on your phone’s camera or microphone to record you: don’t carry it with you.


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Brazil gears up for potential cyber-threats

Rim Zrein



Potential cyber-threats

Over the years, cybersecurity has increasingly become a major issue. Rightfully so, as multiple organizations have been compromised by cyberattacks within a matter of seconds, placing sensitive information in the hands of opportunistic tech criminals. 

However, Brazil isn’t taking any risk, as the country is prioritizing cybersecurity by creating a cyberattack response network, with the goal of encouraging fast action toward cyberattacks. 

The Federal Cyber Incident Management Network will embody the Institutional Security Office of the presidency, and will act as an entity under the federal government administration, according to a presidential decree signed on July 16. 

The network will also welcome public companies, mixed capital companies, and their subsidiaries to join the establishment on a voluntary basis. 

The formation of the cyber network will be supported by the Digital Government Secretariat (DGS). The DGS highlighted in the decree that the newly found cybersecurity network will aim at preventing potential cyber-threats, as well as provide speedy solutions to vulnerabilities being exploited.  

Although joining the network is not compulsory, DGS has hinted that public companies such as Dataprev, the government’s social security technology and information company, and Serpro, the federal data processing service, are expected to team up on this initiative. 

“Fostering cybersecurity at a national level needs to be accompanied by the promotion of a cybersecurity culture, encouraging an attitude shift among business leaders, away from cybersecurity as an information technology-related problem, to a more holistic outlook that values the role of cybersecurity in improving overall business efficiency and performance,” DGS stated within the presidential decree. 

Earlier in June, Brazil’s advancement in the latest Global Cyber Security Index by the United Nations is evident in its recent ranking.  

The country ranked 70th in 2018 on the list of countries with the highest cyber-security. Almost four years later, Brazil currently sits in 18th

The country has shown some of the best results when it comes to cybersecurity. Digital government, and management secretary Caio Mario Paes de Andrade stated that Brazil’s cyber’s development isn’t slowing down anytime soon. 

“The creation of the network will help the Brazilian federal government to further strengthen its role in confronting potential cyber-threats,” noted Andrade. 

According to Cyber Security Ventures, Cybercrime damages are estimated to exceed a staggering $6 trillion by 2021, as data is the building block for most economies around the globe.  

Cyber threats do not only harm businesses and governmental organizations, but they also target almost anything with a heartbeat or an electronic pulse.  

Warren Buffet, American business tycoon, investor, and philanthropist has previously warned countries that cyberattacks are the number one problem with mankind, describing it as a bigger threat to humanity, with nuclear weapons coming in second. 

However, as Brazil jumps on the cyber-security bandwagon, citizens of the country can rest assured as the country is in the process of building an infrastructure to protect itself and its big data from potentially being harmed.  

After all, you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.  

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